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Licensing Expo attracts Grumpy Cat and Smileyface

It’s hopefully the only place you’ll ever find Shaquille O’Neal and Grumpy Cat under the same roof.

The three-day Licensing Expo rolled into Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Tuesday, bringing with it more than 1,800 brands touting new collectibles or seeking investors to help them produce still more swag. The annual gathering is in its 36th year, but it still gives off a vibe somewhere between “unregulated theme park” and “furries convention.”

Warner Bros. unveiled helmets, swords and costumes from next summer’s “Wonder Woman” not far from where Universal Studios showed off Vin Diesel’s souped-up “Ice Charger” from “Fast 8” — or whatever random name they’re going to give next spring’s installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

In addition to a meet-and-greet with O’Neal, attendees could test their football skills against NFL players DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans), Kelvin Beachum (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Kellen Clemens (San Diego Chargers) or get help from fantasy football guru Matthew Berry.

One of the longest lines led to Grumpy Cat. The internet meme looked even more miserable than ever as people got right up in her disgusted little face to take photos. Her booth was a Sarah McLachlan song away from being heartbreaking.

According to the Licensing Industry Merchandiser’s Association, which sponsors the event, global spending on licensed merchandise — everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs emblazoned with movie or TV characters or sports logos — accounted for $251.7 billion in 2015.

There was no shortage of recognizable brands looking to cash in on that spending, including several blasts from the past. Ty is still flogging Beanie Babies. Pan Am had a booth a short walk from a display of Members Only jackets. Rubik’s Cube was there to stretch its brand through a partnership with the company that made the Smileyface logo a $200-million-a-year empire.

Dead celebrities outnumbered the living. Muhammad Ali’s image was already on one booth’s banner between those of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. Other entrepreneurs were looking to wring some more money out of the likenesses of Bela Lugosi and LonChaney Jr., James Dean and John Belushi, Frida Kahlo and Josephine Baker.

If you wanted to get even closer to a deceased star, Pulse Evolution, the company behind the Michael Jackson hologram that performed at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards, was on-site to help you create your own “hyper-realistic digital human.” There was even a booth touting “The Three Little Stooges,” preteen versions of Moe, Larry and Curly, that ominously promised it was “coming soon.”


■ YouTube was there seeking licensing partners, which is especially rich coming while artists including Taylor Swift and U2 are asking Congress for protection of their own licensed content from the streaming giant.

■ There were dresses patterned after “Doctor Who’s” TARDIS, “Jaws”-inspired tennis shoes and “Monopoly”-branded T-shirts for hipsters.

■ “Breaking Bad” merchandise, including Heisenberg Blue Ice vodka, shared a display case with plush versions of various Smurfs.

■ The makers of “Candy Crush” handed out an entire 76-page “look book” full of merchandise inspired by the mobile game.

■ CBS showed off a “Star Trek” line of cosmetics.

■ And dozens of costumed characters including Minions, Angry Birds, Teletubbies and some janky-looking Ghostbusters roamed the halls, giving attendees who couldn’t make it outside a close approximation of roughly every other corner of the Strip — minus the shakedowns for cash.



In preparation for its move to Bally’s, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” is seeking local contestants. Anyone interested in auditioning should line up outside Bally’s Indigo Lounge between 2 and 7 p.m. on the following dates: July 7-9, July 11-15, July 18-22 and July 25-29. For more information, eligibility requirements and an application, see MillionaireTV.com.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.

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